New Delhi, Jun 4 (IANS): The Congress on Sunday demanded the resignation of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and said the Odisha train tragedy was "man-made" devastation caused by "utter negligence, serious lapses in the system, incompetence, a narcissistic sense of 'know it all' attitude by the Modi government clubbed with high decibel PR that has "exposed the hollowness at every level of railway governance".
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters here, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera along with Shaktisinh Gohil said, "India is in deep shock after the country's most catastrophic train accident. Odisha's triple train tragedy has resulted in the loss of precious lives, over 1000 injured."
He said that the Congress expresses its heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
"As a responsible political party, we are providing all possible help and assistance to the victims. Our leaders went to the ground on the very night of the accident. Our frontal organisations are providing all possible help. Our state governments have also provided requisite assistance," Khera said.
Hitting out at the government, the Congress leader said, "This is not a natural calamity. This is man-made devastation caused by utter negligence, serious lapses in the system, incompetence, and a narcissistic sense of know it all attitude by the Modi government, clubbed with high decibel PR which exposed the hollowness at every level of railway governance."
Targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has announced that guilty would be punished, must first start with his Railway Minister.
"Unequivocally and unambiguously - we demand the resignation of Railway Minister Vaishnaw. Nothing short of it," Khera said, making clear the stand of the party.
He said that the Congress has numerous concrete reasons to demand accountability by the Modi government, citing several reports flagged by the railways and the CAG.
The Congress leader accused the government of criminal neglect of 'signalling system', despite multiple warnings.
Citing example, he said, "On February 9 this year, the Principal Chief Operating manager of South Western Railway zone raised concerns of signal failure of an express train with the subject 'serious unsafe incident happened at Hosadurga Road station of Birur-Chikjajur section of Mysore division on February 8 this year involving Train number 12649 Sampark Kranti Express, leading to condition for averted head-on collision with a down goods train."
He also showed the report for the same.
Khera said the incident indicates that "there are serious flaws in the system where the route of dispatch gets altered after a train starts on signals with correct appearance of route in the SMS panel.
"This contravenes the essence and basic principles of interlocking," he said.
Khera said that the Principal Chief Operating Manager also warned if the signal maintenance system was not monitored and corrected immediately, it could lead to "re-occurrence and serious accidents".
Citing the preliminary investigation report of the Friday's Balasore accident, he said, "The preliminary investigation team, comprising mostly Senior Section Engineers, found that 12841 Shalimar-Dr MGR Chennai Central Coromandel Express was given the green signal for passing through the Up Main Line, but it was then taken off. This 'flip-flop' signalling led to utter devastation."
Meanwhile, Gohil cited how the Parliamentary Standing Committee slammed the Railway Board for not following safety procedures.
He said that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on transport, tourism and culture in its 323rd report had slammed the railways for the "disregard" shown by the Railway Board towards the recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS).
"The CRS is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The Standing Committee proposed that the CRS should be an autonomous body separate from both the Railway and Civil Aviation Ministries," he said.
"The main task of the CRS is to direct, advise and caution the Railway Board through its inspectorial, investigatory and advisory functions and thereby assisting them in ensuring that all stipulated measures are taken and standards are adhered to and implemented as regards the soundness of rail construction and safety in train operations said the Standing Committee," said Gohil while reading the report.
"Pointing out the 'serious disregard', the Railway Board had for CRS, the Committee Report said that only 8-10 per cent of accidents are enquired by CRS, while rest of the accidents are enquired by Railways itself," he said citing the report.
Gohil further said that just hours before the deadliest Railway Accident, 'Chintan Shivir' skipped Safety presentations in the national capital on Friday evening.
"According to multiple officials present at a 'Chintan Shivir', or a brainstorming session headed by the Railway Minister on Friday just hours before the accident, presentations by various zones on railway safety were skipped. And, only one zone was allowed to make the presentation on safety while the discussion on the launch of Vande Bharat trains and increasing revenue were allowed," he said citing media reports that quoted senior officers.
The Congress leaders also cited CAG report saying that '48 consequential Train Accidents (train accidents having serious repercussions in terms of loss of lives, property etc.) as compared to 35 such accidents the previous year.
The leaders said that the CAG pointed out that in 2022-23 railways witnessed 165 aceNon Consequential Train Accidents", including 35 cases of aceSignal Passed at Danger - SPAD".
"The prolonged working hours of loco pilots due to an acute shortage of manpower was suspected to be the main reason for the increasing number of accidents, particularly SPAD cases," Khera said citing CAG report.
He said that the audit "also revealed 23 factors responsible for derailments in the selected 1,129 cases/accidents over 16 Zonal Railways.
"Out of 23 factors, the major factor responsible for derailment was related to 'maintenance of track' (167 cases), followed by 'deviation of track parameters beyond permissible limits' (149 cases) and 'bad driving/over speeding' (144 cases)," he said.
He also said that the Rashtriya Rail Sanraksha Kosh (RRSK) was created in 2017-18 with a corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore over a period of five years with an annual outlay of Rs 20,000 crore. But the short deployment of funds by Railways from internal resources to the tune of Rs 15,775 crore (78.88 per cent) out of the total share of Rs 20,000 crore had defeated the primary objective of creation of RRSK to support absolute safety in Railways.
The Congress leaders also cited over three lakh vacancies in railways and said, "RTI has revealed that more than 3.11 lakh posts out of 14,75,623 Group C posts and 3,018 out of the sanctioned 18,881 gazetted cadre positions are lying vacant in various departments of the Indian Railways. A majority of the 39 railway zones and production units lack the required human resource. Along with vacancies of top railway functionaries, which directly are linked to the delay, there is serious ad-hocism in appointments by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet Secretariat, which we all know is controlled by the PMO," Khera said.
He also said that none of the trains in the Odisha crash were equipped with anti-collision equipment nor was the section covered by the National Automatic Train Protection System or KAVACH.
"Many questions arise, but there are three that are most fundamental, why is the Prime Minister not taking responsibility for the deadliest railway tragedy, Independent India has ever witnessed? Why is the PM not seeking the resignation of the Railway Minister, who's over the top publicity, theatrics and PR gimmicks overshadowed the serious deficiencies, criminal negligence and complete disregard for safety and security of Indian Railways? Why is the Modi government evading the questions of CAG, Parliamentary Standing Committees, experts and the people of India?"
His remarks came two days after a massive train accident involving two express -- Coromandel Express and SMVP-Howrah Superfast Express -- and a stationary goods train in Odisha's Bahanaga railway station on Friday evening. At least 21 coaches of the two trains derailed that led to death of 275 people and leaving over 1,000 injured.